What Makes New York Style Bagels Different & Delicious? (2024)

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September 22, 2022 By CityPASS

There are many things to think about when planning a trip to New York City (here's our guide on how to do just that). One of these considerations is how best to sample the local cuisine.

The New York style bagel is the one of the first culinary delicacies that comes to mind for most Americans. But what makes New York style bagels different? And where are you going to find the best bagels in NYC?

What Makes New York Style Bagels Different & Delicious? (2)

What Sets Apart a New York Bagel?

The main difference between a New York bagel vs. a regular bagel is a strange step in the cooking process. Traditional New York style bagels are submerged in boiling water for a couple of minutes before they're baked. Sometimes called "water bagels," boiling the dough sets the outside to give them a crispy exterior and chewy texture.

How can you tell you have a true New York bagel in your hands? Turn it over — if it has a grid pattern on the bottom, it was steamed first instead of boiled. Steamed bagels also lack the roundness and shininess of New York style bagels.

Fresh New York bagels are also traditionally never toasted, and they're fatter than a mass-produced bagel or wood-fired Montreal-style bagel. They've even grown larger over the decades — from 3 oz. in 1915 to 6 oz. in 2003.

The History Behind New York's Tasty Bagels

Different cities around the world have developed their own style of cooking and serving bagels. But the New York style bagel is unique to New York — it isn't easy to find an accurate duplication anywhere else in the country.

The origin of the bagel itself is disputed — but we can trace the start of New York bagels back to the Ashkenazi Jews of Poland. Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe began arriving in New York City in large numbers in the 1800s. They brought traditional foods, such as challah, brisket, matzo ball soup, and bagels.

Good bagels are cheap, filling, and delicious — so they soon became a mainstay in the Jewish communities of the Lower East Side in Manhattan. But up until the 1960s, little was known of bagels in NYC outside of the Jewish community. Nowadays, their popularity has spread and been adapted into various recipes throughout the world.

What Makes New York Style Bagels Different & Delicious? (3)

The Crackly Crust on the Outside With a Soft Texture Inside

The ingredients list for making a New York bagel is short. Bagel makers usually combine bread flour (or all-purpose flour), active dry yeast (or instant yeast), sugar, salt, vegetable oil, and sometimes vital wheat gluten. The bagel is then always boiled in water that has had barley malt added.

Traditionally, makers then top their bagels with:

  • Sesame seeds
  • Poppy seeds
  • Everything bagel seasoning
  • Dried onion or garlic
  • Brushed egg wash

Alternatively, they can keep it as a plain bagel — toppings can still be added later.

Bagels are then tipped onto burlap-covered wooden boards that have been coated with cornmeal or semolina, or wetted with warm water. They're baked in the oven for a few minutes. These steps give a New York style bagel its signature chewy texture on the inside, crackly crust on the outside, and distinctive flavor.

The New York Water and Local Ingredients

NYC bagel purists will claim the main difference between a New York bagel vs. a regular bagel is the water you boil them in. Much like a specific vineyard terroir is used to make a wine, certain minerals in New York City tap water are attributed to creating the best bagels.

These include low concentrations of calcium and magnesium and a high level of sediment. This makes the water softer, which is thought to strengthen the gluten in the bagel dough.

However, the water is not the only factor in the New York bagel experience. The ingredients and traditional processes for making them both play their part too.

The Serving Options: Bagel With Lox or Cream Cheese

New York style bagels are usually high in calories, and eating just one can be a satisfying meal. But what are they traditionally filled with?

To make a bagel like the Jewish community did in the 1930s, "schmear" your bagel with cream cheese. Then layer your bagel with lox or another form of cured fish. These toppings were combined as a kosher adaptation of eggs Benedict.

Cinnamon raisin and other sweet bagels are popular, but these originated in the 1950s and 60s. They're not traditional and are even frowned upon by some New Yorkers. However, a visit to just a few New York bagel shops will show dozens of choices now, including plenty of less traditional flavors.

What Makes New York Style Bagels Different & Delicious? (4)

New York's Top Bagel Shops

Although there are bagel shops on every corner, only a few places can contend for the title of the best bagels in NYC. These joints are all very easy to reach by subway — see our full guide on how to use public transport in New York City.

Absolute Bagels

The glossy bagels at Absolute are often served when they're still warm, so toasting is unnecessary. Along with their budget prices, it's no wonder Absolute has lines stretching out the door at lunchtime. The everything bagel and bright orange egg bagel are customer favorites. Get either one served with a fresh coffee.

Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company

Visit one of the five Brooklyn Bagel locations across Queens and Manhattan and pick up a huge, spongy bagel. While Brooklyn Bagel boasts the more common cream cheeses, smoked fish, and deli meats, they're also well known for "crazy cream cheese spreads." Flavors include honey bacon sriracha, strawberry, and cannoli.

Bagel Bob's

Boiling and baking fresh bagels throughout the day, Bagel Bob's has been in business for over 21 years. They're kosher and have something for everyone. Their extensive menu includes 14 varieties of bagels, fish salads, and five tofu cream cheese substitute options. Bagel Bob's unusual dairy cream cheese flavors include lox spread, sundried tomato, and Nutella.

What Makes New York Style Bagels Different & Delicious? (5)

Get a Fresh Bagel on Your Way to an Iconic New York Attraction

Of course, there's so much to experience in New York City besides their world-famous bagels. Whether you're in NYC for just a few nights or for a longer stay, you'll want to choose for yourself from a range of attractions to visit. With several types of CityPASS® tickets to choose from, you're sure to save money however you spend your time.

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What Makes New York Style Bagels Different & Delicious? (2024)


What Makes New York Style Bagels Different & Delicious? ›

A New York–style bagel is always boiled in water that has had barley malt added, which gives a bagel its signature taste, texture, and leathery skin.

Why do New York bagels taste different? ›

NYC bagel purists will claim the main difference between a New York bagel vs. a regular bagel is the water you boil them in. Much like a specific vineyard terroir is used to make a wine, certain minerals in New York City tap water are attributed to creating the best bagels.

What is the secret of New York bagels? ›

The Key to a Real New York Bagel

New York bagels get boiled prior to baking, defining their special texture in a solution of water and barley malt. A long boil and thicker crust inhibit rising, resulting in a dense interior while a short boil yields a crusty yet chewy bagel bite.

Why are New York bagels superior? ›

Popular mythology tells us that the soft water that trickles down from the Catskills in upstate New York has a profound effect on the softness of the bagels. Since there are less minerals (magnesium and calcium, for example) in this water, the gluten proteins don't tense up and make the bagels too tough to chew.

What makes NY NJ bagels so good? ›

Secondly, and most importantly, New Jersey's water is the best suited for making bagels. NJ gets its water from the Catskill Mountains, which has very soft water, meaning it has low concentrations of calcium and magnesium. This soft water perfectly matches the high protein concentration of the bread flour.

What is the most popular bagel flavor in New York City? ›

At least according to GrubHub.

What do New Yorkers call cream cheese on a bagel? ›

In American Jewish cuisine, a bagel and cream cheese is sometimes called a "whole schmear" or "whole schmeer". A "slab" is a bagel with a slab of cream cheese on top. A "lox and a schmear" is to a bagel with cream cheese and lox or “Nova” smoked salmon.

What do New Yorkers put on their bagels? ›

Toppings — Traditionally accepted toppings are limited to poppy, sesame, salt, onion, and everything. Modernists toppings can include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, other "seasonings." Water — Many believe New York City water is the secret to the city's bagels.

What does boiling do to bagels? ›

Boiling bagels give it's distinct chewy and dense texture. It helps it create a thin, slightly crispy texture when you boil it for 30-6o seconds on each side it also contributes to the bagel's shiny appearance. Boiling also prevents over expansion to keep its unique shape.

What is a true New York bagel? ›

A traditional New York-style is typically larger and fatter than a mass-produced bagel, or a wood-fired Montreal-style bagel. They have also grown over time, from about 3 ounces (85 g) in 1915 to 6 ounces (170 g) in 2003.

Why are bagels better in Long Island? ›

Some say it has to do with the water, some say it's the old-fashioned recipe imported from Eastern Europe and perfected in America. But no matter how you slice it, LI bagels are a cut above the rest.

Why are bagels on the East Coast better? ›

The differences between East Coast and West Coast bagels have been a topic of great debate for years. Some people believe it's due to water used during dough creation, while others claim that there are other factors at play such as yeast variety or time spent proofing the bread before baking them.

What is the healthiest New York bagel? ›

Explore our six healthiest bagel options - all made with whole grain flour as their first ingredient.
  •  Cranberry Energy Bagels. 27 reviews.
  •  Quinoa Multigrain Bagels. 22 reviews.
  • Whole Wheat Bagels. 26 reviews.
  • Whole Wheat Everything Bagel. 16 reviews.

Why are New York bagels special? ›

Well there must be something in New York City's water because believe it or not, one of the reasons that NYC bagels have such a great taste is because of the state's water. Every authentic NYC style bagel is made by being kettle boiled, so they all are exposed to New York water during the process of making them.

Which state had the best bagels? ›

New York stands tall as the nation's bagel empire for the second year in a row. The Bagel Apple brings home the gold in bagel Popularity, with locals and tourists alike seeking out the city's most iconic breakfast food.

What is the difference between a New York bagel and a regular bagel? ›

Looking at the difference between the two coasts, bagels in the west tend to be more soft and chewy in the middle as opposed to dense like New York bagels, and they typically have more of a crisp on the outside. The ingredients used in both (and ratios) are also different, which provides a unique taste.

What makes New York bagels different from other bagels iReady? ›

Explanation: The primary characteristic that makes New York-style bagels unique among other bagels is that they are boiled before they are baked. This distinctive preparation method gives New York style bagels their iconic chewy texture and slightly shiny surface.

Why are bagels so much better on the East Coast? ›

With very soft water, the dough tends to get soft and sticky. As Smithsonian Magazine puts it, New York City tap water is sort of the "Goldilocks" of water when it comes to dough-making.

What is the difference between a Montreal bagel and a New York bagel? ›

Montreal bagels tend to be smaller, thinner, sweeter and less salty than their New York City counterparts. Both are boiled, but Montreal employs wood-burning ovens for baking, while New York utilizes burlap planks. Many NYC loyalists tout the local tap water as the secret ingredient.

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